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by A.D. Robles
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
You are probably familiar with this verse. This is John 13:35. This is one of the amazing sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ right after he finishes washing the feet of his disciples as an example of humble, loving service. This is one of the most popular Bible verses in our culture today. I did a google search of the interfaith blogging site patheos.com to see how many articles I could find that quoted this verse. I only searched using the NIV and ESV version of the verse and found an amazing 379 articles.
What is interesting is that it was not only Christian articles that I found quoting this verse, I found a number of atheist bloggers using it as well. The main thrust of many of these articles is that Christians are hypocritical, and in disobedience to Christ, because they clearly do not act loving at all. One article, “Your Love is Toxic,” claimed that any form of church discipline, even in cases of unrepentant sin, breaks Jesus’ command to love. It even cited and linked, this video by John MacArthur as an example of unloving Christian hypocrisy. So, the argument goes, if Jesus says that people will know his disciples by the love that they show, many Christians today are clearly not true disciples.
Have you heard this line of thinking before? Should this force Christians to re-think the stances the Bible seems to take against sin? If the world doesn’t recognize our love as love, should we be worried?
I would never discourage a brother or sister from checking their heart. We must guard against any bitterness or anger that we may harbor; making sure that when we act, we act in love.
But, if the world does not see love in our actions as Christians it does not necessarily follow that those actions are unloving.
John 15 is just a few chapters after the verse quoted by the atheist in the article linked above. It also happens to be in the same exact monologue that Jesus is speaking to his disciples. John 15:18 says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Interesting. The same Jesus who just a few moments ago told his disciples that the world would know them by their love, also says that the world hates him and hates them. He goes on to say to his disciples, “They hated me without cause.”
There are many in the world who have defined love as its opposite. The have defined love as unconditional acceptance of all people and all culturally acceptable activities. I am glad that so many people like to reference the book of John because the apostle John, being carried along by the Holy Spirit, is an absolute expert on how love is really defined:
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:8
First of all, if you define love without God as the foundation of your definition, you have gone off the rails from the outset.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. – 1 John 5:2
You cannot show love by setting aside the commandments of God. That is literally impossible.
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. – 1 John 3:16
Rather than setting aside the commandments, Christ offered his life so that the curses that the commandments demand against all sinners, could be fulfilled in our place. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” – Galatians 3:13.
This is how we even know what love is. We don’t ignore the commandments and we don’t teach others to ignore the commandments. That is not love. But rather we urge, beg, plead and proclaim the forgiveness that is available in Christ.
If you love your neighbor you will tell him the truth. If you love your neighbor you will obey the commandments of Christ. If you love your neighbor you will lay down your life for him giving up any malice, any envy, and any hatred that you may harbor in your heart. You will do these things even if he hates you for it, even if he rages against you, even if he doesn’t receive your actions as love.
Christians should be the most loving people on the face of the earth. But Christians will demonstrate real love, not the counterfeit sentimentality that passes for love on most television shows, movies and blog posts. Don’t give in to that distortion. Love is so much more than that. It is much more profound, much more special and much more fulfilling.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.